Wednesday, 26 October 2011

If not now, when?

As Labour and the Liberal Democrats conspired to deny the public a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, David Cameron insisted that one was appropriate:
Where you stand on the referendum says a lot about your politics. It says a lot about how much you value trust between the government and the governed.
...
Gordon Brown's flip-flopped on this before. First he was against the Constitution, then he was for it; one day he promised a referendum, the next he backtracked. While he has chopped and changed, our position has remained exactly the same. We are the only major party to have consistently said that it is up to the British people to decide on our future in Europe.
Cameron recognised that the EU post-Lisbon would be a fundamentally different beast from the EU pre-Lisbon. But with the metamorphosis complete, he now denies us a referendum on our relationship with the creature. It says a lot about his politics, and how much he values trust between the government and the governed.

Daniel Hannan's latest blog post is well worth reading:
No one has yet answered Charles Walker's question. 'If not now, when?' asked the amiable and popular MP for Broxbourne during Monday's referendum debate, before promptly sitting down. Flawless brevity; flawless pertinence.

We used to be told that a major renegotiation would be inappropriate because the EU wasn't a pressing issue; now we're told it's inappropriate because the EU is a pressing issue. In fact, of course, the d├ęgringolade of the euro offers us a unique opportunity. The 17 eurozone countries have rather bigger things to worry about at the moment than whether the UK is in the Common Fisheries Policy, the financial services framework or the employment directives. They need our permission to make treaty changes in which we have little direct interest. Any other member state in our situation would exact a price for its acquiescence.

Ministers are making vague noises to the effect that we might seek to repatriate jurisdiction in the event of a future treaty change, but almost no one is convinced. MPs know that there is already a treaty change before Parliament: the one-paragraph modification which will retrospectively authorise the bailouts. They know that the Government did not seek to recover powers from Brussels in exchange and that, despite all the verbiage about referendum locks, there was no question of putting the amended treaty to the voters.
Where do we go from here? Hannan has a sensible suggestion:
The way out is to set a date for an In/Out referendum as an agreed end-point of any renegotiation talks. It doesn't have to be tomorrow, or next month or even next year. If the Government is genuinely worried about the timing, it could declare that the referendum will take place on, say, 7 May 2015, the date of the next general election. Supporters of EU membership would then have every incentive to improve our membership terms in advance of the poll.
Hard to argue with, if you respect logic and democracy. Sadly, Cameron and his ilk respect neither.

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